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Newsline - April 25, 2006


TRANSNEFT THREATENS TO CUT OIL SUPPLIES TO 'OVERFED' EUROPE...
Semyon Vainshtok, who heads Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft, told the Moscow daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of April 24 that completing the projected oil-pipeline system to Pacific Rim countries will enable Russia to cut supplies to Europe. He argued that "we have overfed Europe with crude. And every single economic manual says that excessive supplies depress prices. [But] so far we are unable to reduce supplies because all our exports go to Europe. But as soon as we divert [flows] to China, South Korea, Australia, [and] Japan, it will immediately take away crude from our European colleagues." These remarks follow a warning to EU ambassadors in Moscow by Gazprom CEO Sergei Miller that his company has other customers besides the Europeans. Brussels then called on Gazprom to honor its gas-supply commitments to EU members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 20, 21, and 24, 2006). But on April 24, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is also Gazprom's chairman, told Reuters that Miller's remarks were taken out of context and contained "no threats, no blackmail." PM

...AS ROSNEFT TOOTS ITS HORN...
Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov told the ninth Russian Economic Forum in London on April 24 that his company is now the world's "absolute leader in reserve growth" and the third-largest in exploration, "The Moscow Times" reported. Rosneft expects to double its current output of 1.5 million barrels per day by 2015 and thereby become the global leader in capitalization and "operational results." His remarks came as Rosneft prepares for its initial public offer, which is expected to be one of the largest in history. The Moscow-based daily pointed out that Bogdanchikov "did not mention that Yuganskneftegaz, the former Yukos asset that Rosneft now owns, was the main reason for the reserve growth, nor did he mention Yugansk elsewhere in his presentation, which included an overview of Rosneft's other assets." Some observers noted that other participants did not raise the issue of the once-mighty Yukos, either, whose demise is widely viewed as having been engineered by the Kremlin for political reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, and March 16 and 20, 2006). PM

...AMID CALLS FOR GREATER TRANSPARENCY...
London's "The Times" reported on April 25 that concerns are growing in the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the shadowy firm RosUkrEnergo, which emerged as a key player in the settlement of the Ukrainian gas crisis at the start of 2006 (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 10 January 2006). The firm is already under investigation by being investigated by the organized-crime division of the U.S. Justice Department. On April 24, the U.K. NGO Global Witness called for an investigation into the company and appealed to the EU not to enter into any agreements with Turkmenistan until there is greater transparency in the gas trade, which also involves RosUkrEnergo as a middle man. The NGO urged Russia, which has made energy security a main theme of its current presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries, to look into charges of impropriety in the gas sector. Critics say that shady dealings have led to a sharp rise in the price of gas in leading markets, including the United Kingdom and Germany. PM

...AND FOR REFLECTION
The Moscow-based daily "Novaya gazeta" wrote on April 24 that "the exchange of ultimatums between Gazprom and the EU" has gotten out of hand. The paper stressed that the EU needs Russia's oil and gas, Russia needs the EU's money, and that neither can manage without the other. No matter how much Gazprom threatens to reroute gas exports, it would need at least 15 years to do so, the paper added. By the same token, the EU would need a similar amount of time to find and engage new suppliers, according to "Novaya gazeta." The paper noted that the Europeans are "too greedy...and scared" to allow Gazprom to control their markets, while the Russian supplier wants to become something more than just a purveyor of raw materials. In related news, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to discuss energy issues, among other things, with President Vladimir Putin on April 26-27 at the eighth German-Russian consultation meeting in Tomsk in Siberia, which is home to many of Russia's natural resources. PM

IS RUSSIA 'OPPOSED' TO IRAN GOING NUCLEAR?
An unnamed "Kremlin source" told RIA Novosti in Moscow on April 24 that Russia "is categorically against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and against Iran having the technical knowledge to enable it to become a nuclear power." The source nonetheless stressed that Moscow and Washington have different approaches to dealing with Iran and noted that "we categorically reject any scenario involving the use of force" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 19, and 21, 2006). PM

PUTIN WANTS TO EXPAND KYRGYZSTAN BASE
President Putin said in Moscow on April 24 in conjunction with the visit of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev that Russia intends to improve the air base at Kant in the Central Asian republic, vesti.ru reported. He noted that the base assists "collective rapid deployment forces and contributes to ensuring security and stability, not only in Kyrgyzstan but also in the Central Asian region as a whole." He called the continuing improvement of Kant "one of our priorities. It is a mobile operational component of the collective rapid deployment forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the Central Asian region, and we are interested in building up its resources." For his part, Bakiev referred to the "importance and timeliness of our cooperation in the framework of the CSTO. This cooperation is especially timely now for the fight against international terrorism, religious extremism, the danger posed by narcotics, and organized crime." PM

KREMLIN CONTROL ADMINISTRATION REPORTEDLY SLAMS GOVERNMENT
The Moscow-based daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on April 24 that the Kremlin agency known as the Control Administration has criticized the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov for failing to curb corruption and for hampering economic growth in the year since President Putin made a major address on the economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25 and 26, 2005). The study reportedly claims that targets for controlling inflation have not been met and that gas and oil production have suffered for a lack of investment in infrastructure. The administration also is said to have criticized the government for failing to reform the industrial and housing sectors and for failing to provide sufficient vocational training for young people. Criticism of the Fradkov administration and speculation about his political future are no stranger to the Russian press, but criticism of Putin's basic policies is limited to a few newspapers and websites. PM

ARMENIA COMMEMORATES ANNIVERSARY OF 1915 GENOCIDE...
Hundreds of thousands of people commemorated on April 24 the 91st anniversary of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, silently converging on the monument to the genocide victims outside Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Many participants carried Armenian flags and banners denouncing Turkey's long-standing claims that the massacres occurred on a much smaller scale and refusal to recognize the atrocities as genocide. The daylong procession began with a prayer service in memory of the dead led by the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, in the presence of President Robert Kocharian, members of his government, and other senior officials. A number of foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador John Evans, also presented wreaths at the memorial. RG

...AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO CONTINUE GENOCIDE RECOGNITION EFFORT
In comments marking the anniversary of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, President Kocharian pledged on April 24 to "continue the struggle" for international recognition of the genocide and to continue raising the issue with Turkey, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian added that Turkey's unrepentant stand on the issue amounts to complicity in the genocide and noted that "Ottoman Turkey and its legal successor bear full responsibility for this crime." RG

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ISSUES WARNING TO PARTNERS
Stepan Demirchian called on his political partners on April 24 to "ascertain their political future" and issued a warning that his People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) will not hesitate to contest the next elections on its own, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Demirchian's position as nominal leader of the nine-party opposition Artarutiun (Justice) alliance has been steadily eroding over the past few months, with at least three parties preparing to split from the bloc. Demirchian's warning to contest the May 2007 parliamentary election alone stems from his view that he was the rightful winner of the flawed 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections. RG

OSCE ELECTION OBSERVERS ARRIVE IN AZERBAIJAN
A delegation of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observers arrived in Baku on April 24 to begin preparations for their mission to observe a partial rerun of parliamentary elections scheduled for May 13, ANS-TV reported. The 10-member mission, led by German diplomat Girt Ahrens, is slated to meet with Central Election Commission officials, various candidates, political party leaders, and NGO representatives to discuss measures to prevent the voting irregularities that marred the parliamentary elections in November 2005. RG

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL OFFERS COMPROMISE IN WINE DISPUTE WITH GEORGIA...
Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russia's State Health Inspectorate, on April 24 offered a new compromise to Georgia aimed at resolving the Russian ban on Georgian wine imports, ITAR-TASS reported. Onishchenko announced that Russia will lift its restrictions on imports of Georgian wine if the two countries organize a system of joint control over wine production in Georgia. The State Health Inspectorate banned on March 27 the import of alcoholic drinks from Moldova and Georgia. The official reason for the Russian ban on Georgian wine is the products' reportedly inferior sanitary standards. RG

...BUT GEORGIA STRONGLY DEFENDS ITS WINE EXPORTS
Georgian Agriculture Minister Mikheil Svimonishvili strongly defended on April 24 the quality of Georgian wine exports and rejected any Russian compromise, Civil Georgia and ITAR-TASS reported. Svimonishvili added that the results of an independent French examination of Georgian wine found no pesticides and certified that "Georgian wines meet safety requirements." He also questioned the implementation of the Russian ban, disputing the Russian determination that "50 percent of Georgian wines do not conform to norms" and questioning the Russian decision to "ban the imports of the remaining 50 percent that are quality products." Tbilisi sees the Russian ban as political intimidation by Moscow and, according to Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze, "insists on discussing the question of Georgian wine supplies to Russia in the CIS format." RG

PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY RATES GEORGIAN POLITICIANS
According to the results of a Georgian newspaper's public opinion survey, a majority of Georgians would prefer to see Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili as the country's next prime minister, Caucasus Press reported on April 24. Nearly 22 percent of the survey respondents indicated support for Okruashvili, followed by 11.4 percent for Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili as the best choice for prime minister. Rounding out the survey, Republican Party leader Levan Berdzenishvili received 7.5 percent, and former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili and Government of the Future leader Gia Maisashvili garnered 7.3 and 5.3 percent, respectively. RG

SOUTH OSSETIA TO MODERNIZE TELEPHONE COMMUNICATIONS
Following the approval of the leadership of the unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, businessman Valeri Kochiyev announced on April 24 that he will launch a new program to modernize the telephone communications network, according to the Russian news agency Regnum. According to Kochiyev, the existing system utilizes a dilapidated network of cables in operation for between 20 and 40 years. An earlier modernization effort began last year, with the introduction of a new digital local exchange in Tskhinvali using new equipment produced by a Chinese firm. RG

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES DETAIN, THEN RELEASE, DAUGHTER OF FORMER PRESIDENT
A statement by the Kyrgyz National Security Service on April 24 announced the arrest of Bermet Akaeva, the elder daughter of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, ITAR-TASS reported. Akaeva was released after several hours of interrogation. National Security Service Deputy Chairman Elmurza Satybaldiev said officers detained Akaeva on the basis of a warrant issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office seeking to compel her to testify in the pending criminal case of her husband, Adil Toigonbaev, and her brother, Aidar Akaev, who face charges of corruption and abuse of power, according to Interfax. Akaeva was arrested after returning to Kyrgyzstan from neighboring Kazakhstan, where she sought refuge after losing her parliamentary seat in the wake of her father's ouster and subsequent flight to Moscow in March 2005. RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WELCOMES EXPANSION OF RUSSIAN BASE
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 24 during his first official visit to the Russian capital, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Putin affirmed Kyrgyzstan's strategic importance to Moscow and stated that the expansion of Russia's Kant military base in Kyrgyzstan is "one of our priorities." Bakiev welcomed the Russian base as a contribution "to security and stability" in both the country and the region. The Russian military base at Kant serves as a central regional component of the Collective Security Treaty Organization's rapid-reaction force and is to host joint Kyrgyz-Russian counterterrorism exercises later this year. RG

KYRGYZ PARTY CALLS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE OVER DEMONSTRATIONS...
In a statement issued in Bishkek on April 24, the Commonwealth (Sodrudzhestvo) Party encouraged the Kyrgyz opposition to engage in a political dialogue and suspend its strategy of mass rallies and demonstrations, AKIpress reported. The statement argued that a political dialogue is "much more productive" as "all the problems mentioned by the opposition leaders can be resolved in line with the law, without 'rally-based' democracy and new political upheavals." The call is seen as tied to a mass rally planned for April 29 by the opposition to highlight demands for constitutional reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19 and 20, 2006). Kyrgyz Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov announced on April 24 that police are "undertaking measures" to "prevent any incidents" during the demonstration and to ensure "law and order," Kyrgyz television reported. Opposition leaders announced that they expect more than 20,000 demonstrators, according to Interfax. RG

...AS KYRGYZ PREMIER ACCEPTS SOME OPPOSITION DEMANDS
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov on April 24 announced his acceptance of opposition demands for deeper economic and political reform, Interfax reported. Kulov said that, "in general, I almost fully support the demands of the protesters," but he dismissed their demand for the dismissal of National Security Service chief Tashtemir Aitbaev. Aitbaev, who headed the Interior Ministry from 2000-02, was appointed national security minister in March 2005, and weathered protests in April 2005 demanding his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 28, 2005). RG

TAJIK PRESIDENT SHAKES UP ENERGY MINISTRY...
Through a series of presidential decrees issued in Dushanbe, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov launched a reshuffling on April 24 of the Energy Ministry, dismissing Minister Jurabek Nurmahmadov along with Deputy Ministers Emomiddin Aslov and Nematullo Inoyatov, according to Tajik television and the Avesta website. Deputy Energy Minister Abdullo Yerov replaced Nurmahmadov. Presidential energy- and industry-department head Pulod Muhiddinov was named the new first deputy energy minister, replacing Aleksei Silantyev who was appointed first deputy chairman of the Barq-i Tojik power company on March 28. Zarobiddin Fayzulloev, the first deputy chairman of the committee of state inspection for health and safety issues in industry and mining, was also appointed as a new deputy energy minister. Yerov was first appointed energy minister in October 2000, before being replaced by Nurmahmadov in January 2004, Interfax reported. RG

...AND RESHUFFLES TWO OTHER STATE POSITIONS
President Rakhmonov issued on April 24 a second set of decrees reshuffling two other junior positions, Tajik television reported. Rakhmonov fired Deputy Agriculture Minister Mirali Safarov, without naming a replacement, and appointed Fayzullo Amiraliev as the new deputy chairman of the State Committee for Environmental Protection and Forestry. RG

TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTRY REFUSES TO COMMENT ON REPORTS OF INDIAN MILITARY PRESENCE
Responding to journalists' questions, Tajik First Deputy Defense Minister Ramil Nodirov released a Defense Ministry statement in Dushanbe on April 24 refusing to comment on reports that the Indian air force has deployed fighter aircraft in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus reported. The statement referred to reports published on April 20 in the Indian media that contended that the Indian military was engaged in expanding the Ayni air base outside of Dushanbe and was planning to deploy a fleet of MiG-29 fighter-bombers at the air base. The Indian media also reported the expansion of an April 2002 bilateral Tajik-Indian agreement on military cooperation providing for the training of Tajik pilots and air-force personnel by Indian military advisers and a 2003 deal for a $10 million Indian grant for the modernization of the facility's airstrip and communications equipment. RG

BRITISH NGO ACCUSES TURKMEN PRESIDENT OF MISUSING GAS REVENUES...
The British nongovernmental group Global Witness released a report on April 24 accusing Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov of misusing proceeds from Turkmenistan's energy sector, RFE/RL and AP reported. The report specifically accused Niyazov of keeping much of Turkmenistan's estimated $2 billion annual revenues from its natural gas "under his effective control in overseas and off-budget funds." Ironically, during a cabinet meeting on April 20, Niyazov warned officials to "work better" after noting that a number of high-ranking officials in the oil and gas sector were jailed for embezzlement last year (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," April 24, 2006). RG

...AS TURKMEN LEADER ACCUSES FORMER OFFICIAL OF CORRUPTION
In a meeting with senior law-enforcement officials on April 24, President Niyazov accused former Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanova of corruption, Turkmen television reported. In comments during a televised address, Niyazov charged Atajanova with taking bribes during a criminal investigation into three former oil and gas officials and called on a combined investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office, National Security Ministry, and the Interior Ministry. The broadcast then showed Atajanova weeping and pleading with Niyazov "not to send her to prison." RG

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ASSESSES ELECTION CAMPAIGN AS SATISFACTORY
The Political Council of Prodemocratic Forces on April 24 found the performance of opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's campaign team satisfactory, Belapan reported. Milinkevich's campaign manager Syarhey Kalyakin said at the council's meeting in Minsk that the team succeeded in rallying support for and promoting the opposition presidential candidate. Kalyakin stressed that Milinkevich saw his support rise from 1.5 percent to 20 percent and his name recognition to 85 percent in independent opinion polls within four months of his campaign that involved more than 5,000 activists. Milinkevich called on the council to concentrate on forming a freedom movement in the postelection period. He is expected to unveil the movement's platform during the opposition rally in Minsk on April 26 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DONOR CONFERENCE ON CHORNOBYL AFTERMATH
President Viktor Yushchenko called in Kyiv on April 25 for a new international donor conference on coping with the aftermath of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I am calling on the European Council and the United Nations to support this initiative and to be the forum's co-organizers," Yushchenko said at an international conference in Kyiv marking 20 years since the Chornobyl disaster. "International efforts should focus on surmounting the main problems related to Chornobyl. Chornobyl should not remain a black mark on the map." Yushchenko also predicted that the construction of a new cover (sarcophagus) over the nuclear reactor ruined in the 1986 blast at Chornobyl may begin this summer, adding that three international conferences raised $1 billion for the project. Yushchenko said that in the past 20 years Ukraine spent some $15 billion in dealing with the consequences of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. JM

UKRAINIAN POLITICIAN CLAIMS ELECTION RESULTS WERE FALSIFIED
Natalya Vitrenko, leader of the People's Opposition bloc in the March 26 parliamentary elections, argued before the Supreme Administrative Court on April 24 that the Central Election Commission (TsVK) falsified the election results it announced earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2006), Interfax-Ukraine reported. According to Vitrenko, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was "the main political force that compelled" the TsVK to falsify the election results and effectively carry out a "coup d'etat" in Ukraine. People's Opposition and several other parties that did not overcome the 3 percent voting barrier in the March 26 parliamentary elections have sued the TsVK, charging that it violated the procedure for announcing election results. The Supreme Administrative Court is expected to announce its ruling on April 25. JM

SERBIAN POLICE ARREST ANOTHER ALLEGED MLADIC ACCOMPLICE...
Serbian police have arrested a retired army officer suspected of helping war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic evade capture, B92 and dpa reported on April 24. Ratko Vucetic was arrested on April 22 at his home in the Belgrade suburb of Bezanijska Kosa. Citing the daily "Kurir," B92 reported that Mladic and Vucetic have known each other since childhood. According to dpa, Vucetic, who served under Mladic in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is the war crimes fugitive's fifth alleged accomplice arrested this year. BW

...AS ICTY KEEPS PRESSURE ON
International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spokesman Anton Nikiforov said on April 24 that the ICTY will issue a statement on the level of Serbia's cooperation in early May, B92 reported the same day. "We expect that the government will follow through on its promises, and we will release a statement on the progress of cooperation between Serbia and the tribunal once this deadline ends, in other words, at the beginning of May," Nikiforov said. The European Union has given Serbia until the end of April to arrest Mladic and extradite him to the ICTY in The Hague, or face a suspension of negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement. "The extradition of Mladic is now the priority, but the Serbian government will have to continue cooperating with The Hague. This includes the extradition of all other indictees and the continued forwarding of documents which are important to the processes which will be led in The Hague," Nikiforov added. BW

KOSOVA TO BEGIN CONSTRUCTION OF HOMES FOR DISPLACED ROMA
Kosova's leaders on April 25 formally launched the rebuilding of homes for Romany families in Kosovska Mitrovica, AP reported. Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the UN Mission in Kosova, and Prime Minister Agim Ceku will attend a ceremony commemorating the beginning the reconstruction of Kosovska Mitrovica's Roma Mahala neighborhood. At the end of the 1999 war in Kosova, ethnic Albanians accused Roma in Kosovska Mitrovica of collaborating with the Serbs and set fire to their homes. The hundreds of Roma left homeless have been living in lead-contaminated camps since. In January, the UN offered a former French military base as temporary housing, but some of the families refused to move there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 10, 2006). BW

INDEPENDENCE OPPONENTS ARRESTED IN MONTENEGRO
Two prominent opponents of Montenegrin independence have been arrested for attempting to forge electoral lists, AFP reported on April 24, citing local media. A court in Podgorica ordered that Dragan Garic, a lawyer for an electoral bloc opposing independence, and Marica Babovic, an official with the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), be detained for 30 days pending an investigation. Law-enforcement officials suspect the two of submitting false documents to pad voting rolls with extra names, including those of dead people. SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic denounced the arrests, calling them an effort by the government to pressure those opposing independence, and called on the EU to intervene. Montenegro's independence referendum is scheduled for May 21. To pass, 55 percent of those casting ballots must vote for independence and turnout must be at least 50 percent. BW

TRANSDNIESTRIAN LEADER SAYS CUSTOMS RULES MUST BE LIFTED FOR TALKS TO RESUME
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said on April 24 that Transdniester will only resume negotiations with Moldova when new customs rules are revoked, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We are ready to sit down at the negotiating table after the restoration of the status quo, [meaning the] resumption of the previous procedure of the movement of cargoes across the border," Smirnov said. The new rules, which require goods crossing the Transdniester portion of the Moldova-Ukraine border to clear Moldovan customs, went into effect on March 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). The EU and United States support the new regulations as part of an antismuggling effort. Russia and the pro-Moscow leadership in Transdniester have called them an economic blockade. BW

IRAQI PREMIER-DESIGNATE PROMISES TOUGH APPROACH
The Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance nominated Nuri Kamil al-Maliki -- better known by his nom de guerre, Jawad al-Maliki -- as its new candidate for prime minister on April 22, hours before the parliament convened to elect the president, parliament speaker, and their deputies.

Al-Maliki, a high-ranking official in the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, was a close aide to outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. The two men share many similarities, but, according to many who know him, al-Maliki is a tough pragmatist who can get the job done.

Just three years apart in age, both men were born in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala. Like al-Ja'fari, al-Maliki was a staunch opponent of Saddam Hussein. And, like al-Ja'fari, he fled to Iran during a Ba'athist crackdown on insurgents. Al-Maliki eventually made his way to Syria, where he continued his activities in the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, publishing a magazine, "Al-Mawqif" (The Attitude), that supported his party's political goals.

Though many view him as having conservative Shi'ite values, some say he does not possess strong sectarian tendencies. "Al-Maliki really is a man distinguished by his modesty," Ra'd al-Kharsan, an Al-Da'wah Party official in Al-Najaf, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on April 22. "He is devoted to and arduous in his work."

Still, al-Maliki's political background and recent statements have raised some concerns among Sunni Arabs. He told reporters at an April 22 press briefing that the incoming government would take steps to integrate Iraqi militias into the armed forces. "Law No. 91 will take care of integrating [militias] into the armed forces according to rules that do not diminish the rights of those who struggled against the dictatorship," he said, adding that 11 militias affiliated with parties and political forces are named in the law, which was drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2004.

For Sunnis who contend they were victimized at the hands of Shi'ite militiamen, some of whom were tied to Interior Ministry security forces, the notion of merging more militiamen into the military is unacceptable. Al-Maliki "announced that he will merge militias with the security forces instead of bringing those who committed crimes and atrocities to justice," Muslim Scholars Association member Muhammad Bashar Amin said, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on April 24. "Thousands of Iraqis have been killed by those militias," Amin added.

And while the Al-Da'wah Party does not operate a militia in Iraq, al-Maliki is the former head of the party's jihad office, which functioned as the military wing of the party against Iraq's Ba'athist regime, leaving many wondering whether his administration will be willing to rein in rogue elements now operating within the Interior Ministry's security forces.

It is also unclear whether al-Maliki will be able to hold a national-unity government together. Some Sunni leaders reportedly objected to al-Maliki's nomination on the grounds that he is too sectarian. They later gave him their support in exchange for Shi'ite support for their nomination of Mahmud al-Mashhadani, whom Shi'a view as a hard-line Islamist, to the post of parliament speaker.

Al-Maliki told reporters on April 22 that his government will not be formed along ethnic, sectarian, or party lines. "Those who will join the new government should realize that they are ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party. Second, ministers should have great efficiency, sincerity, and honesty in order to work as part of a team that will confront the developments and challenges" of the government, he said.

Iraqis will see if he is a man of his word when the cabinet is announced, sometime in the next 30 days.

PLANE CRASH LEAVES FOUR DEAD IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A chartered plane carrying U.S. State Department employees dealing with counternarcotics efforts slammed into a settlement near the runway of the airport in the provincial capital of Helmand Province on April 24, killing five people, international news agencies reported. The pilot was reportedly trying to avoid a truck that was crossing the runway when he lost control and hit the settlement. Two people aboard the Russian-built plane and two children on the ground were killed. A spokesman for the Canadian military, Major Quentin Innis, said eight of 16 passengers aboard the plane and five Afghans on the ground suffered injuries, AP reported. An unidentified U.S. official was quoted as saying the two people who died aboard the plane were Ukrainian crewmembers. AT

AFGHAN JOURNALISTS UNION PROPOSES NEW INFORMATION MINISTER
At a meeting in Kabul on April 23, the Afghan Independent Journalists Union suggested that Sayyed Hosayn Sancharaki should be the country's new minister of information, culture, and tourism, Tolu Television reported. The lower house of the National Assembly on April 20 rejected President Hamid Karzai's nominee and currently serving minister, Sayyed Makhdum Rahin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2006). Sancharaki is Rahin's deputy minister for publications. The journalists union described the cabinet-confirmation process as a major step toward democratization. The lower house has offered no explanation for rejecting Rahin, but as Karzai's only minister in charge of the media, Rahin has had run-ins with the conservative clergy over limits on media freedom. AT

HIGH SCHOOL TORCHED NORTH OF KABUL
Unidentified arsonists burned down Sayyed Hasan High School in Kapisa Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on April 24. Kapisa's head of education, Zalmay Shahid, accused "enemies of the state" of setting the school ablaze. In addition to furniture, more than 1,000 books were lost in the fire. Construction of the school, which has an enrollment of 1,200, was completed only recently. AT

NATO'S TOP COMMANDER SAYS TALIBAN NOT 'OVERWHELMING REALITY' IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. General James Jones predicted at NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium, on April 24 that the current upsurge in violence in Afghanistan will subside, AFP reported. While it is "tempting to label everything as the 'comeback of the Taliban,'" he said, in his view "that is not the case." "I think the Taliban is a reality, but it is not the overwhelming reality," he added. Jones partly blamed the resurgence of violence, especially in southern Afghanistan, to ongoing counternarcotics efforts. AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT REITERATES VIEWS ON ISRAEL
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told an April 24 news conference that "logically...this fake regime [Israel] cannot continue its existence," Radio Farda reported. Ahmadinejad said the Middle East was not part of World War II, but the war continues to have an adverse impact on the region, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. Ahmadinejad noted that Iran mourns the war's victims, too: "Some 60 million people were killed. We are unhappy that all those people were killed; every single one of those lives is worthy of respect." He questioned mourning for only some of the war's victims, however, and he asked why Europeans claim to support the Jews so wholeheartedly today when they were so anti-Semitic in the past. Ahmadinejad said Jews living in Israel should be allowed to "return" to their countries of origin. In what appears to have been an allusion to his call for a Palestinian referendum, Ahmadinejad said that Palestinians should be allowed to determine their own fates. Ahmadinejad also addressed the Holocaust, saying research on the subject should be permissible if the West is confident that it occurred. BS

SUDANESE PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN IRAN
Umar Hassan al-Bashir, the president Sudan, arrived in Tehran on April 24, IRNA reported. He was greeted at Mehrabad Airport by Agricultural Jihad Minister Mohammad Reza Eskandari and, during his three-day visit, is expected to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki. BS

TEHRAN SENDS MIXED MESSAGES ON TALKS WITH WASHINGTON ABOUT IRAQ
Iran's acting charge d'affaires to Iraq, Hussein Zolanvar, said on April 24 that Iran's Supreme National Security Council will determine the date for Tehran-Washington talks on Iraqi affairs, IRNA reported. A statement by President Ahmadinejad during an April 24 news conference, however, made the talks seem unlikely. "Our experts announced that we were ready to talk [with the United States] about [the situation in Iraq]," he said, according to Radio Farda. "But even in this case, we saw that [the United States] did not behave well. We are really sorry about their behavior. We think that with the settlement of the permanent Iraqi government, there is no need [for talks], and we hope they will let the Iraqi people administer their country themselves." BS

TEHRAN PROMISES TO HELP IRAQI GOVERNMENT
An international conference on Iraqi affairs began in Tehran on April 24, IRNA reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki told the attendees that the foreign occupation of Iraq has not "helped restore security, stability, and tranquility" but has, in fact, worsened the situation. Mottaki went on to attribute terrorism and sectarian strife in Iraq to the occupation forces. He called for the prompt establishment of Iraqi military and security institutions in order to hasten the withdrawal of foreign forces, and promised Iranian assistance. "Iran has always expressed its readiness to help the Iraqi government and people restore security in their country by providing educational assistance and dispatching equipment required by Iraq's police and security forces," he said. Once a permanent government is established in Baghdad, Mottaki continued, Iran will host a meeting of foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring states. Mottaki cited the construction of oil pipelines connecting Al-Basrah and Abadan, rail links, and bilateral trade as positive signs. BS

IRAQIS DECRY SECTARIANISM IN FORMING NEW GOVERNMENT
Just days after Jawad al-Maliki, a founding member of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party and a longtime aide of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, was nominated for the premiership, complaints have emerged over the allegedly sectarian nature of the government. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National List complained that government positions are being handed out on the basis of ethnicity, faction, and sect, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on April 24. Allawi stressed his desire for a "national-unity government" that represents all Iraqis. "We are opposed to the monopolization of the leading posts on the basis that this post is allocated to a Shi'ite, that to a Sunni, and this one to a Kurd," he continued, adding that sectarianism and the existence of militias is responsible for the current difficulties. Allawi further expressed concern that Iraq will be partitioned. Also decrying sectarianism was Muhammad Ali al-Tamim, a member of the Council of Representatives from the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on April 24. He said his list will not join a government in which positions are allocated on sectarian and ethnic grounds.

IRAQI SHI'ITE MILITIA SEEKS SPECIAL STATUS
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said at an April 23 press conference that he anticipates resolution of the militia issue, and Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki told reporters at an April 22 press briefing that that the incoming government will take steps to integrate Iraqi militias into the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). Hadi al-Amiri, secretary-general of Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told Al-Jazeera satellite television on April 23 that his group favors the disarmament of militias and their merging with the national army. "However, I agree with [Iraqi President] Jalal Talabani that the Badr Organization is not a militia. This organization proudly carried weapons against the Saddam [Hussein] regime. After the downfall of the Saddam regime, it turned into a political organization." Talabani also said at a April 23 press conference that the Kurdish peshmerga are not a militia, Kurdistan Democratic Party satellite television reported. BS

NO LETUP IN IRAQ VIOLENCE
The explosion of seven car bombs in Baghdad on April 24 killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more, Al-Jazeera television reported. Two bombs went off near Al-Mustansiriyah University, and another went off near the Health Ministry. The same day, Interior Ministry sources said the remains of 32 police and security-forces recruits from the town of Al-Ramadi were discovered in Baghdad, Reuters reported. Seventeen bodies were discovered in the capital's Baghdadi district, and the other 15 were discovered in Abu Ghurayb. BS

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